Passenger engagement goes digital

Onboard Infotainment Screen Small P4skoqhlivi2w9q4fcoykxnmad81kx7xtzfke4zyxs

The next generation of digital display systems provide more ways to educate, inform, and entertain riders

By Matt Schroeder
Director of Marketing, ETA Transit Systems

In the marketing world, there is a thing known as ‘the gag.’

The gag, is a hook; the way you’ll grab the attention of your audience and invest them to learn more about whatever it is you are selling or promoting. The gag can be funny or sad; it can be serious or ridiculous. The goal is to imprint upon the viewer a willingness to engage and ultimately act upon whatever action you want them to perform.

No tool accomplishes this better than the visual medium—the TV screen.

We are a society attracted to bright flashy lights, and the glow of the screen—you are reading this now on a screen, after all—it is just impossible to resist. Face it, we are drawn to the allure of the display. Big or small, fixed, or portable, our eyes are always on the lookout for the next screen; eager to engage with the bright glowing squares of information.

Your transit vehicle is a perfect opportunity for digital displays, and your riders are the audience that advertisers love—captive. They are stuck on a bus or shuttle for an unspecified length of time, looking for something (anything) to make their trip feel a bit shorter. They crave information—whether it be arrival times to the next stop, local news, or weather, or even advertisements that keep them in the loop on the nearest restaurants, shopping, or entertainment options.

These onboard screens—powered by an infotainment platform—are your gag; your hook to improved passenger engagement and revenue generation.

Sadly, in the current marketplace these systems are sorely underutilized by transit operators. A few statistics that underscore this trend:

  • Only 38 percent of transit agencies have plans to purchase digital displays for vehicles within the next two years.*
  • Just 7.89 percent of airports use on-vehicle displays on their parking shuttles. **
  • Only 6.8 percent of transit agencies have video advertising on vehicles.*
  • Cost is the number one reason agencies state they have yet to adopted digital displays.***

Based on the above statistics, that would indicate a very slim market for digital display, right? Not so fast.

The flip side of the market equation reflects the interest of the riders, and the numbers show that they overwhelmingly want digital displays on their vehicles. In fact, the wants of the passenger seem to indicate that transit agencies are not in-tune with their customers’ needs.

  • 54 percent feel that onboard video content is useful****
  • 78 percent of airport passengers want to see onboard infotainment systems on parking or rental shuttles *****
  • 3 percent of first-time riders state that onboard video announcements contribute to their confident use of public transit
  • Local weather (60%), news (50%), and advertising (40%) are the types of content most riders state they want to see for their onboard displays.*******
  • Restaurants (64.1%) Shopping (61.2%), banking (47.5%), and Entertainment (33.8%) represent points of interest riders are most interested in learning about during their travel experience.****


Rich media content on a digital display
Serve up rich media content and information to riders.


Granted, there is more to the equation than simply a difference between where transit agencies focus their resources and where passengers would prefer transit funds be allocated. Many transit riders are not intimately aware of the funding side of the equation and how money is spent. There are always going to be a difference in priorities between the two sides.

Which leads us into the cost side of the argument. The cost for digital displays is far cheaper than it was ten, even five years ago. The technology side of the equation is changing rapidly, and a shift by intelligent transit (ITS) providers to a COTS model (commercially-available, off-the-shelf) means that the same displays used by retail customers can also be adapted to the transit market. Large, high-definition LCD displays can be had for low-hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. The smart technology and Wi-Fi connectivity has simplified the connection to and transmission of real-time information from ITS systems to these digital displays.

  • Commercially available media management tools can create custom playlists of audio, video, and static images.
  • Onboard GPS signals provided by the ITS can trigger specific announcements, alerts, and points of interest
  • Map-based route progress or ladders are easily displayed in real time.
  • Subscription-based media services provide affordable content to inform and engage riders on their journey

The cost of deployment amounts to just a few hundred to low thousands per vehicle to equip, install, and configure these new displays to precisely deliver the tone and scope of engagement a transit agency desires.  The more engaging the ride, the better the experience. The better the experience, the more riders will want to utilize a transit service. This leads to improved reputation, increased fares, and the opportunity to create new, advertising-based revenue streams.

For the transit operator, that’s the real hook…

  • Higher rider satisfaction
  • Increased utilization
  • New revenue streams

The utilitarian component of public transit just is no longer enough to draw passengers en masse. Engagement is the key, and digital displays provide a simple, cost-efficient, high-impact means of delivering an enhanced curb-to-curb experience. In an era of increased competition by TNCs, home-delivery services for groceries and restaurants, and mandates for greener, climate-friendly solutions, public transit is going to have to adapt to remain relevant. Cultivating and improving the travel experience is a simple, cost-efficient way to move the needle.

Read more about the Screen Generation blog.

Are you using digital displays on your vehicles? How are you using them to impact your passenger experience? If you do not use onboard displays, why not?

* 2019 ETA Transit Agency Survey
** 2019 ETA Transit Airport Survey
*** 2020 ETA Transit Agency Survey
**** 2020 ETA Transit Rider Survey
***** 2019 ETA Airport Passenger Survey
******2019 ETA Transit Rider Survey
*******2017 ETA Transit Rider Survey

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